After tuneup runs that included an American mile record of 330.5 in August, Mickey was ready for a 400-mph attempt on the salt flats by late September, but oddly enough the salt flats weren't ready for Mickey. Rain in the arid area had made them treacherously rough and soft. Days passed while official timers waited at $1,400 a day—an expense that, like many others, was covered by a gasoline company and engine-making sponsors.
With more bad weather coming, Mickey decided to risk a record attempt. On a morning run he averaged 363.7 mph running both ways through the measured course and breaking land speed records for 16 assorted distances. Then, as he thundered toward the measured mile once again that afternoon, his oxygen hose fell loose from his mask. He tried to hold the canopy open for a gulp of air, failed, and had to fight combustion fumes until "I couldn't read the markers along the straightaway. That was the signal. 'Boy, you've got to pop that chute,' I said to myself, and that's all I remember."
Thompson was unconscious before he could hit the brake, but the parachute brought the car to a long rolling halt. His pit crew pulled him from the fume-filled cockpit and revived him with oxygen.
At 10:30 that night, his brush with death forgotten, Thompson stood on the lonely salt flats and cursed the gentle rain that spelled the end of time trials for this year. He ordered Challenger trucked home to Los Angeles and headed back himself to his job as a newspaper pressman and to more tinkering in his garage.
Challenger, still never run at full throttle, will be back next September, and around the 1960 trials there may develop one of the most exciting contests of the year. For Thompson is not going to be alone on the flats this time.
England's Donald Campbell, who holds the world's water speed record, has a turbojet racer a-building. He is after John Cobb's record too. And he has promised to be on the flats September 4.
He raised his trusty gun. What luck!
The mallard was as good as plucked.
His aim was true, but then the duck